July 02, 2007

Animal science student honored for research

by K.C. Jaehnig

CARBONDALE, Ill. — Mascoutah resident Crystal M. Doll Welsh, a master's student in animal science at Southern Illinois University Carbondale, took second place and a $125 prize in the Equine Science Society's national graduate competition for research in reproductive physiology.

"Her work represents an essential piece of a puzzle that our laboratory has been working on for a decade and a half," said Professor Sheryl S. King, head of the equine science program in SIUC's College of Agricultural Sciences.

Based on their research, King and her colleagues think that certain nerves — those that secrete dopamine or norepinephrine or both — work together with hormones from the brain to communicate directly with a mare's ovary, letting it know when to release eggs and when to stop. It is ground-breaking work.

"There is no other laboratory in the world that is involved with the relationship of ovarian nerves to reproductive seasonality in any species," King said.

Welsh searched for these nerves in tiny, cross-sectional slices of ovaries taken from mares during the winter, when the release of eggs stops, and in summer, when the ovaries are at work — and found those that secrete dopamine.

"She found more of them during the winter quiescent state than during the summer active state, which is good, since we think that dopamine actually creates a type of braking system on ovarian activity," King said.

"This kind of mapping has never been done in the horse, and for us to have found a link between the nervous system and the endocrine system in the ovary is way 'out there' — it's exciting!"

This particular line of research, for which King and her colleagues have received international recognition, has put the University's equine research program in the forefront in the study of seasonal control mechanisms, King said.

"Discoveries made at SIU in this field have become widely accepted procedures employed around the world to assist reproduction in mares," she added.

Welsh, who also earned her undergraduate degree from SIUC in 2005, presented her research during the society's annual meeting June 5-8 in Hunt Valley, Md.; it forms the bulk of the thesis on which she is now working. She expects to receive her master's degree in December.

Welsh is married to Mike Welsh and is the daughter of Jacob residents Rex M. and Dianne J. Doll.